Melanesia still a speck in NZ’s South Pacific map

By Dev Nadkarni

With the rise and rise of the South Pacific as a region of great geopolitical importance and huge, untapped hordes of natural resources, resource hungry nations from every continent have been joining the lengthening beeline at every successive annual Pacific Islands Forum summit.

As continents run out of natural resources and oceans of their fish stocks, the world has its attention trained on the last frontier – the island nations of the Pacific Ocean, particularly those in its southern quarters.

In recent years, these nations have had their exclusive economic zone boundaries redrawn – or are in the process of being redrawn – putting larger areas of open sea under their sovereign control. This potentially reduces the swathes of ocean that were no go zones because they belonged collectively to the world – the world’s commons, so to speak.

Besides natural resources and geopolitics, small island states also are important because of their voting power on international platforms, which is another reason for the biggies to woo them.

New Zealand’s deep relationship with the nations of the South Pacific has been acknowledged widely by the world’s nations. It was on show once again at the landmark 40th anniversary of the Pacific Islands Forum held in Auckland last month in the run up to one of the world’s biggest sports events – the Rugby World Cup.

The country flaunted its long and deep ties with the nations of the South Pacific by putting up an engaging showcase of its culture, heritage, cuisine and opportunities for investment.  It certainly has reason to be thankful to Pacific nations for the supplying the continuous stream of legendary players that have sharpened the cutting edge of the All Blacks over the years.

New Zealand’s biggest city and business capital Auckland also takes pride in calling itself the world’s largest Polynesian city because more Pacific Islanders live there in any other city anywhere else in the world. For instance there are more Niueans in Auckland than there are in Niue. Ditto for the Cook Islands as well.

A couple of years ago the United States started to realise that its neglect of the Pacific was sure to cost it dearly in coming decades. It began sending a string of senior envoys and officials to tour the region. While visiting New Zealand, one of them famously said the US needed “New Zealand’s eyes” to view the region. That visit has been followed up none less than the Secretary of State, who warned the US would not “cede” the Pacific to any nation – as if it already had ownership of it!

So New Zealand’s importance as the local expert in the South Pacific Ocean has grown considerably.

But its involvement in the region though undoubtedly deep, long and enduring, is quite lopsided. For New Zealand and New Zealanders, the South Pacific is still mainly Polynesia. The Melanesian states don’t quite figure in their reckoning the same was as Polynesia does. That lopsidedness by and large shows in much of the country’s Pacific initiatives.

For many New Zealanders, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and to a lesser extent Vanuatu don’t figure on their radar as much as the Polynesian countries do. The only exception is Fiji, which straddles the Melanesian-Polynesian divide because of both its geography and history. It is undeniably the gateway to the South Pacific – literally and figuratively. One can’t travel directly to most of the Melanesian countries from New Zealand unless you change planes in Fiji (or Australia).

Australia, on the other hand, has struck a deep, engaging and mutually beneficial relationship with the Melanesian island nations. This is both because of its geographic proximity and its deep interest in the natural resources sector. The Melanesian states are growing at rates comparable to China and India on the back of the natural resources boom in their respective countries.

In that sense, New Zealand has missed out on building a steady growing relationship with the Melanesian states. For whatever reason, Melanesia still does not figure in its scheme of things in the Pacific the way Polynesia does, though it must be said that New Zealand has allowed in far more Melanesian seasonal labourers to work in its horticulture sector than Australia has.

Though New Zealand has stepped up its engagement in Melanesia in recent years, particularly in Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands’ education sector, it needs to do much more in building its business and investment relationship with Melanesia if it wants to take advantage of the entire region’s booming economy. It must realise that engaging with Melanesia would be like taking an opportunity that is right on its doorstep.


Islands’ investment promotion activity needs boost

Pacific Island countries’ investment promotion websites are good but not good enough.

Working with experts across a range of disciplines, the World Bank Group has evolved a set of tools and benchmarks to help investment promotion agencies in countries around the world tune up their investment handling processes at all levels – from technology and human resources to organisational processes.

The World Bank Group’s Global Investment Promotion Benchmarking (GIPB) system periodically provides a comprehensive overview of global best practices in investment facilitation, evaluating the performance of 189 countries.

According to GIPB surveys, online sources are among the most important influencers of corporate executives with respect to perceptions of business climate, while making investment decisions in any country.

It rates investment promotion websites across four criteria critical to websites as a tool to attract global investors and help garner precious foreign direct investment  (whether regional or international) – something that has been increasingly hard to come by in the present global investment climate since the worldwide financial crisis.

Its reports indicate that while the websites of investment promotion organisations of the Pacific Islands are good in some respects, they fall behind best practice standards in others.

These four are content, promotional effectiveness, design and information architecture in order of priority (the last two have equal weightage). Pacific Island websites compare fairly well with design and information architecture best practice standards but fall short when it comes to content and promotional effectiveness.

This clearly reveals that government ministries and departments charged with the operations of investment promotion agencies need to do much more to keep websites going with the right type of fresh and useful updated content as well as promote it both online and offline.

The study points to the fact that once websites are created, the responsible agency does not allocate financial and human resources to keep content fresh and engaging enough to entice prospective investors.

Last month the World Bank Group held a three-day “training the trainer workshop” for Pacific Island investment promotion practitioners and consultants in Sydney to address these issues.

As well as providing the participants with tools and course content to help tune up their own organisational systems and develop better human resource skills, the clear message to governments and funders of investment promotion agencies was the need for continuous resource allocation for promotional activity, particularly for websites and digital media.

First appeared in Islands Business, October 2011